What is peer pressure?

Making good mates is important, but sometimes trying to fit in with a group can turn sour. Giving in to pressure from your friends to do something you normally wouldn't do can leave you feeling guilty, regretful, ashamed, embarrassed or even frightened. Find out what peer pressure is and how to handle it, including what to do if things get serious.

This can help if:

  • you feel like you don’t fit in

  • it bothers you that you act in a certain way around particular people

  • you’re doing things you don’t want to do.

girl sitting in group with downcast face

What is peer pressure?

Wanting to feel part of something can put pressure on you to act in certain ways. You could be experiencing peer pressure if you’re acting in certain ways because you want to be accepted by the people you hang out with. You might be doing something you wouldn’t normally do, or aren’t doing something you want to do.

Peer pressure can influence:

  • the way you dress or wear your hair

  • the activities you get involved in

  • the music you listen to

  • your decisions about using drugs and alcohol

  • who you date

  • who you’re friends with.

The pressure to act in a certain way can be:

  • direct: someone telling you what you should be doing

  • indirect: your group of friends might do certain activities together that you’re unlikely to do outside of that group

  • self-motivated: putting pressure on yourself to fit in with your friendship group, because of certain standards they’ve set or comments they’ve made.

How to deal with peer pressure

Peer pressure isn’t always a bad thing; sometimes it can be good, such as when your friends stop you from doing something dumb that you’ll later regret. But often peer pressure can be linked to negative stuff. Check out the following examples of peer pressure and consider some tips for dealing with them.

Pressure to bully

Seeing friends bullying others in person or online (cyberbullying) can make you feel pressured to get involved. It might seem okay at the time, but later you might feel embarrassed, guilty or ashamed.

  • Think about why your friends had such a strong influence on your actions. Was this a way for you to gain self-confidence?

  • Did you feel that if you didn't join in, your friends would start to bully you?

  • Reflect on whether your friends are having a negative impact on you.

  • Don’t label yourself a ‘bully’. We all make mistakes, but they don’t have to permanently define us.

  • Aim to develop a stronger sense of your own values and to stop bullying.

Pressure to diet or body-build

If your friends have strict diet or workout regimens, you might feel like you also need to achieve the ‘perfect’ body. But worrying about your body image can leave you feeling burnt out and stressed about how you look. Are you bored with or anxious about calculating the nutritional value of everything you eat? Are your workouts feeling lacklustre, because you’d rather be doing something else? If you recognise yourself in these scenarios, maybe you’re dieting or working out just to fit in with your mates.

  • Focus on nourishing your body by engaging in stuff that you enjoy and that empowers you, such as singing, acting or volunteering.

  • Spend time with supportive mates and family.

  • See a health professional to learn ways of developing a positive body image.

  • Remember that no one should pressure you to change the way your body looks; your confidence in your own body is the only thing that matters!

Pressure to take drugs/alcohol

If you've felt pressured into drinking or taking drugs, you might feel guilt and regret afterwards for ‘giving in’.

  • Talk to a family member or a trusted friend.

  • See a counsellor or health professional.

  • Remember that many people of your age have sought help, too.

Pressure to have sex

You might feel pressured to have sex if you’re afraid of what your partner or friends will think if you don’t. But sex can be very personal, and you may feel vulnerable afterwards.

  • You might not trust your partner yet or feel emotionally prepared. It’s okay to tell your partner that you’re not ready, and they should respect that.

  • Many people later regret giving in to pressure to have sex. If it happens to you, don’t label or blame yourself.

  • Learning from this experience and understanding your feelings around it will help you to make better decisions in the future.

If you've been pressured into having sex without your explicit consent, remember that sexual assault is never okay and that there are support services available.

Some ways to handle peer pressure

  • Pursue your own interests. Hang out with people who like doing the same stuff you do.

  • Say ‘no.’ Calmly explain why something‘s not for you.

  • Don’t judge. Respecting someone else’s choice may help them respect yours.

  • Friends don’t have to agree on everything. Understanding that everyone has their own opinion means you can chill out and feel less defensive.

What to do if things get serious

If you’re in a situation where you feel threatened, are being hurt, or feel pressured into doing something that you’re really uncomfortable with, you need to get help. Tell a family member, a friend from outside the situation, a teacher or a counsellor.

What can I do now?